Aumont could use starting role to develop relief tools

First impressions of Phillippe Aumont? Even at 21 years old and wearing street clothes, you can picture him standing on on a pitching rubber and glaring toward home plate in the ninth inning of a close game and scaring a major league hitter out of his sliding pants. His measurables -- 6-foot-7, 220 pounds -- don't do him justice. He has a thick frame, a sturdy base, and baseball gloves for hands.

Jamie Moyer hasn't arrived in Clearwater yet, but you get the feeling that when he finally does, and Aumont shakes his hand and looks down at him and says, "Nice to meet you, sir," Moyer will look up toward the heavens with a frustrated look and ask God, "Why?"

Aumont doesn't look like a guy who is going to fool you with an array of off-speed stuff. He looks like a guy who was the 11th overall pick because of his ability to throw the ball by you, and that's exactly what he is. Aumont's fastball sits in the mid-90's and touches 97, and for that reason the Mariners used him as a reliever for the first two seasons of professional baseball. It is a role Aumont looks like he is built for, and there is a very good chance that if he ever cracks the Phillies' big league roster, it will be the role that he fills.

But the difference between an average hard-throwing major league reliever and a good hard-throwing major league reliever not named Mariano Rivera is a reliable second pitch. Which is why the Phillies' plan at the moment is to have Aumont start the year at Double-A Reading as a starter.

That might seem counterintuitive. With four starters under club control through at least 2012, the Phillies would seem to want to ready Aumont for potential bullpen action in 2011, when J.C. Romero could be a free agent, or 2012, when Ryan Madson, Brad Lidge and Danys Baez are all due to become free agents.

But the best way to get him ready just might be as a starter, where he will throw more pitches, have more regular sidework, and thereby have more opportunities to refine both his curveball and his change-up. Relievers don't have a set schedule, and are generally in the game for short periods of time, and when they are in the games are more concerned with preserving a lead than developing the tools they will need at the next level.

Aumont, who says the Phillies have not yet told him whether they will be using him as a starter or a reliever, acknowledged this yesterday when I talked to him. Here's the story from today's paper.